Liam woke himself up this Sunday from his standard Homily Nap saying, “I know this one!” To say this is unusually engaged behavior from our son during Mass is an understatement, so even I paid attention. The priest was talking about the internet equality meme showing a series of skeletons saying “Underneath We Are All the Same,” or some variant of that. I can’t disagree but it does seem too easy. Are we at such odds with each other that we must go down to the bone to find commonality as humans? Maybe so. Particularly during a divisive election season here in the US, proceeded a little too closely by Halloween…Scary.
The skeleton memes remind me of a wooden puzzle the kids had when they were younger. It was a little boy and it had a series of layers you took out, revealing him in his underwear (giggles from my daughter), then showing his muscle systems, organs, and, finally, bones. It was a little eerie to sit with your child as they peeled away layers of humanity with glee. What is it that draws us innately to peel ourselves down to the basics?
Rather than arguing for that we have a natural drive to self-destruct; I believe we do this with a desire to understand and rebuild ourselves. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “I once thought that there were no second acts in American lives, but there was certainly to be a second act…” Today, we are all about second (and many more acts) and reinvention. It is right and necessary to find commonality, but what we put on our bones does matter, and we need to find a way to accept each other without drilling down so deep.
Yet, the skeleton analogy can broken down even farther. At an inter-denominational bible study years ago, we were asked about “rib and spine” issues with regard to Christianity. The “spine” issues were things all Christians could agree on and the “rib” issues were beliefs that set us apart in our understanding of faith. I naively said that I thought the spine issues could be found in one of the creeds. The other women looked at me like I was from Mars. Had they not heard of it? Surely we could all agree on the Apostles’ Creed? After all, even the Methodists say it:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
*Traditional use of this creed includes these words: “He descended into hell.”
(One of the versions in the current United Methodist Hymnal.)
To me, that seems like a good place to start if you are a Christian. The wording may change a little but the essentials remain.
Even skeletons aren’t all the same, it seems. Our own skeletons have evolved over the years, as man began to walk upright. Sometimes, we don’t even leave skeletons intact, as all of the relics of saints scattered throughout churches the world over can attest. I think the best that can be said is that we are all born, roughly, with some kind of skeletal structure. What goes on top of that, is part nature and part us. We don’t choose our traits, beauties, challenges, and deformities but we can choose what we do with these physical gifts and how we want them to serve our spirituality. Now, more than ever, there is a push to find our common ground as we celebrate our differences. It can be a hard tightrope to navigate.
As for our skeletons, I’d like to think of us all restacking that old children’s puzzle. As we celebrate all things spooky this Halloween, All Saints’, and All Souls’ Days this year, let’s think about what we are adding to our skeletons. Are we putting on love? Are we adding what is good to develop our systems? What’s underneath, God have us all. What shows on top, is your choice.